November 28, 2014 President’s Message
ACBA Committee Raising Awareness About Representing Clients with Disabilities

by Jim Creenan

I was fortunate to have attended the Committee on Law and Disability’s recent program entitled “Better Client Representation through Disability Awareness.”

It is certainly an important subject that warrants letting more people know about the work of one of the ACBA’s newest committees.

The one-hour panel discussion provided thought-provoking insight on how lawyers can recognize and serve clients with disabilities. There was even more discussion among attendees during the social hour that followed the program.

Committee Co-Chair Paul Sullivan Jr. led a very intriguing panel exploration of disability-related issues, such as how to recognize a client who might have an impairment and how certain disabled people respond in stressful situations.

Co-Chair Jennifer Modell joined Paul, along with the Honorable John A. Zottola, Lu Randall (Autism Connection of Pennsylvania), and John Grant. Many people with disabilities face legal issues in the fields of Social Security disability, bankruptcy, foreclosure, employment, hate crimes, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In addition to the knowledge shared and the tips provided, panelist John Grant described his pursuit of disability accommodations as a doctoral candidate and instructor at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His story focused on many legal issues and obstacles. His perseverance and principles drove his fight for the removal of barriers in his daily life.

Many community members attended and each had a particular interest in serving the needs of the disabled. I met several non-lawyer program leaders from the Clelian Heights School, the Autism Society and other groups. Each explained the increased need for qualified legal assistance in the wake of growing populations.

The program touched on two important areas worthy of future consideration for Continuing Legal Education sessions. First, the panel and committee expressed the necessity for better understanding of the need for those with physical or mental impairments to have family members, friends or case workers present during legal discussions. Of course, this raises the prospect of waiving the attorney-client privilege.

Second, most lawyers would be better served with a working knowledge of the broad and changing landscape of the ADA’s accessibility guide.

The committee began its work last year as a result of the vision of then ACBA President Nancy L. Heilman.

The program covered the breadth of the committee’s mission statement, which reads: “The Committee on Law and Disability is committed to providing disability-related education, advocacy, and professional services to members of the legal profession, consumers of legal services, and the general public; promoting and supporting accessibility and fair and equal treatment of persons with disabilities; and furthering the inclusion and professional development of disabled attorneys and law students by creating programs and resources to support their professional needs.

The committee meets on the first Monday of each month at noon at the ACBA headquarters. I encourage you to consider joining the committee.